Commentary: Does size matter?

I recently took a look at colonization of titles and found that the fraction of papers with colons in their titles is increasing steadily. Intuitively, one would thus expect that the average length of the titles has also increased. The plot below shows that this is indeed the case (not that the y-axis does not begin at zero):

The average title length has increased from 8.5 words in 1950 to 12.5 words in 2008. Strangely, the increase is almost perfectly linear except for a fluctuation in the early 60s – I have no idea why this is the case.

But is the title length of a paper important? I personally expected that papers with short, catchy titles would be cited more than papers with longer, more complex titles. Lacking citation information for individual publications, I thus calculated average title length for publications from each journal and correlated it with the ISI impact factor of the corresponding journal:

No correlation is observed between the impact factor of a journal and the average title length of the papers published therein. So we can conclude that – at least for titles of scientific papers – size does not matter.

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3 thoughts on “Commentary: Does size matter?

  1. rolandkrause

    Hmm, I wonder whether the variance has decreased of the years and that title lengths reached some consistency.

  2. Lars Juhl Jensen Post author

    The standard deviation (and hence the variance) has also increased: it was 4.8 in 1950 and 5.3 in 2008. However, it has increased less than the mean, so the relative standard deviation has decreased from 0.56 in 1950 to 0.42 in 2008.

  3. ronpye

    As someone who is interested in the user/reader friendliness (or not) of titles of medical journal articles, I find this to be very interesting.
    James Hartley has written a number of articles about titles including some on colonic titles:
    It would be interesting to see separate plots of average title length (words) for titles with and without colons!


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